Are your supplements making you sneeze and wheeze?
This post was authored by Kristen Szymonik, BS, RRT, AE-C
Many of us take supplements and vitamins to help us stay healthy. But do you know what's really in your supplements? Many people think that supplements are safe because they are natural. But those of us with seasonal allergies know that things found in nature can cause severe allergic reactions.
Think about the supplements that you take. What are the names of the ingredients? Have you looked up those scientific-sounding names to find out what they mean? You might be surprised to know that you could be taking a supplement that contains things you are allergic to.
For example, did you know that if you're allergic to ragweed, you should avoid supplements and teas that contain chamomile, echinacea, dandelion, and daisy flowers? These plants are all from the same family and can have "cross reactivity." That means that they can cause allergy symptoms for people who are allergic to other plants in that family, such as ragweed, which is a very common fall allergen.1, 2
Cross reactivity can also happen with latex allergies. Some people who are allergic to latex may have symptoms when they eat bananas, avocados, kiwis, and other foods. This happens because both the latex and the fruit are made of similar proteins. Your body can't tell the difference between the fruit protein and the latex protein, so it reacts to both. This kind of reaction is sometimes called "oral allergy syndrome."2, 3
There are many other foods and supplements that can cross react with your allergens. For example, people who are allergic to flowers should not drink herbal teas that contain hibiscus, chamomile, or other flowers. It may seem obvious that we should avoid flowers if we are allergic to them, but how many of us really think about what's in our herbal teas or supplements?
It's very easy to assume a supplement is safe because we see it advertised or someone recommends it to us. But it is extremely important to understand exactly what you are putting into your body and make sure it is safe for you. Even if a supplement was prescribed by your health care provider, be sure to check the package before you use it. Some supplements can contain allergens such as fish, shellfish, dairy, and wheat. If a supplement contains or is potentially cross contaminated* with one of your allergens, don't take it. Call your health care provider first and ask if there is an alternative.
And don't forget that allergies can develop at any time. I know of one person who ate shrimp for over 40 years and then suddenly developed a life-threatening allergic reaction! The same thing happens with medications supplements, too. If you start to notice that certain foods, supplements, or medications suddenly cause allergy symptoms, be sure to speak with your health care provider and seek emergency care, if needed.
These are just a few examples of how herbal supplements and allergies interact. Have you noticed any supplements or foods that have affected your allergies? Let's share our experiences and learn together!
*Cross contaminated means that the supplement does not naturally contain the allergen, but it may have trace amounts of the allergen due to how it was made in the factory.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Reactions to Complementary and Alternative Practices. 2023. Accessed April 2023 from: https://www.aaaai.org/tools-for-the-public/conditions-library/allergies/alternative-meds
- Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America. Seven Things You Should Know About Oral Allergy Syndrome. 2023. Accessed April 2023 from: https://community.aafa.org/blog/7-things-you-should-know-about-oral-allergy-syndrome/
- Allergy Asthma Network. Latex Allergy and Foods. 2023. Accessed April 2023 from: https://allergyasthmanetwork.org/allergies/latex-allergy/latex-allergy-foods/